Man: By Steve Cutts – No text required. Just watch.
Man: By Steve Cutts – No text required. Just watch.
I read a peripherally related blog post on a book about experiencing local climate change and that set me thinking a bit.
One of the book’s biggest ideas is simply to emphasize what Seidl calls “true-to-life actions” (p.82), actions that discourage one’s habit of living without engagement with the people and the nonhuman around us, individually and in communities
I like this sentiment a lot, and agree wholeheartedly. The book (I haven’t read it) appears to talk about local ecosystem adaptation, which got me thinking about adaptation in general. When we talk about climate change adaptation, we need to be very specific on who/what can/will adapt, and what community engagement will entail. Of course, I believe mitigation, or minimisng the causes comes first, but this post is primarily about adaptation.
Species will adapt, so will ecosystems, and so will many humans. The Earth will, as well. It will just be a different world. Those of us living in affluent countries will feel the pain peripherally and will have enough buffer to change our ways of life. Some of us may even find ways to profit.
Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter. Their strategies include buying water treatment companies, brokering deals for Australian farmland…
Adaptation is not a choice for the majority of humans on this planet that live in poor, coastal and vulnerable areas. They do not have the money to adapt, the effects on their ecosystems are bigger and faster, and we will not let them move to safer countries like Canada. They will lose land, resource, and when they have to fight to survive, their wars will be treated as caused by their virtue or ethnicity rather than being caused by our past and present consumption. Much of the resources that could mitigate effects may already be controlled by those who can profit from the resources.
Humans will have to adapt, and use any and all strategies, but there’s no “we” in climate change adaptation, there’s the vulnerable and the not-so vulnerable. So, it is insufficient to only think locally. We aren’t the first humans who will be forced to move because of abrupt climate change. But those needing to move this time will face closed borders and hostile states. We have seen time and again, resource stress increases racism and xenophobia, and decreases trust.
What can affluent states do? For starters.
We are, of course seeing the opposite. Carbon infrastructure in US and Canada is being expanded. Resources in less affluent countries are being developed for the use of the affluent (not always from affluent states). Trade wars being fought to protect affluent interests over cheap expansion of non-carbon infrastructure. Of course, race-based immigration policy, while not officially stated as such any more, is still operational.
We have a long way to go as a species to help everyone adapt to climate change. Humans are generally in a better place to take the necessary steps than we’ve been in the past, but the work should have started 20 years ago.
I was in Toronto recently on this walkway between subway stations when I chanced upon a whole row of Enbridge billboards that were (I assume) supposed to give viewers the fuzzy-wuzzies about Enbridge and Natural Gas. There were at least 7-8 of these billboards in a row, but this was my favourite by far. I guess the ad producers don’t really care about having Enbridge associated with spin and green washing
I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read this morning of the new rules put in place to “help” Canada’s residents voice their concerns on the numerous pipeline projects that are to be built to ship diluted bitumen out of Alberta. The rules arise from the Omnibus “Budget” bill passed in 2012 that “streamlined” environmental assessments.
Ordinary Canadians who want to participate at the NEB hearings, or even write a letter to offer their thoughts, must first print the application form that was made available online on Friday, answer 10 pages of questions, then file it with both the NEB and Enbridge. And they must do so by April 19.The NEB also encourages those wishing to make submissions to include résumés and references. Only after an application is approved will the board accept a letter
Mr Prosser said: “You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know.”
“But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”
Just a note that the Vogons gave us nine months notice to demolish earth and did not ask for a 10 page application, résumés, references and first born (one of these is not a requirement).
Picture of Vogon from Tim Ellis’ Flickr stream used under a Creative Commons Licence
A friend’s post on facebook triggered some thoughts on religion, so I expanded my comment (not science/policy related, so feel free to glaze over).
I grew up Hindu, or shall we say, Tamil Brahmin. In India, each community’s practice of Hinduism is very different, informed by place, caste, class and more, so calling yourself a Hindu is not very illuminating. I went to the temples with my parents, and felt a connection with something (in hindsight, it was the architecture, grandeur more than Ganapathy) I prayed (after a fashion), more for specific things like “Oh god, let me do well in this test” rather than anything. I participated in the ritual and festivals, like any good kid. All this ritualistic practice aside, my single greatest spiritual memory as a young adult (and to this day) is a 5 minute meditation experience I had with my uncle sitting in a simple Ramakrishna Mission hall. I remember losing connection with my usually racing brain and reaching what I perceived as a meaningful connection with God, but what I would now associate with a particularly successful mindfulness practice. I still haven’t quite achieved that sense of “levitation” since.
I remember being about 15, going to a really crowded temple (I think it was this one) and jostling with thousands of other people to get a fleeting glimpse of a stone (or gold plated? super rich temple!) idol, I lost my faith in one moment (at least, that’s how I perceive it). I persisted in going to temples and participating in ritual for a bit, hell, even going back to the same temple a couple of years later, but there was nothing there.
Into my late teens and twenties, I tuned much more into the powers of organized religion to oppress, deny freedom and restrict behaviour. At that age, I perceived the community around me using religion (in hindsight, it’s much more complicated) to restrict my activities and censure them (oh privileged male!). I was very likely to lump the people with their religion. I did not believe religion to be a force of anything other than restriction and censure, and I judged the people around me who still practiced their religion in spite of “ought to know better”. I very plainly refused to practice any rituals, or go to temples. Leaving India helped as well, since I had no community pressure to practice anything.
Those years were ritual free (after a fashion), and I would call myself a primarily analytical person, using logic to solve problems (oh, so simple!). But, I did find ritual missing in my life. Into my thirties, I sub-consciously (at first) started to incorporate some ritualistic practices like morning coffee, regular gym workouts, and many other time based ritual activities as a substitute. My health and well-being definitely improved, though you could say the fact that I chose gym workouts as a ritual rather than bar hopping did not hurt! But, that’s really the point of ritual, isn’t it, to find the ones that centre you?
As I grow older, I am less militantly anti-religious and more likely to incorporate yoga, mindfulness, meditation and other behaviours that could be associated with spirituality into my life. But I see them as healthy behaviours, almost like exercise rather than connecting me to something greater. I went through a phase wishing I could believe in a god again, it would be a lot easier than having to figure it out for yourself, but that passed. I am still as atheist as I’ve ever been, just a lot more tolerant of other people’s paths and processes. I understand that everyone’s well being depends on connection, whether it is social, or spiritual or physical. If their practice of “religion” or their belief helps them achieve that connection, that’s just lovely (The last few times I’ve visited India, I’ve even let my parents drag me on temple excursions!) That is, as long as they do not end up supporting oppressive homophobic, racist or misogynist behaviour based on religion. I still believe that most organized religion is a tool of patriarchy and control, and cynically uses people’s need for connection to achieve political power and money, so no support there.
You make a dal by cooking a lentil/mix of lentils and seasoning it with a mix of spices (or tadkas). So, the possibilities are endless. Some quick notes
Some classic combinations
Yellow lentils (toor dal or similar – 1 cup)
Ginger – a 1-2 inch piece grated
Garlic, a few cloves – chopped fine, minced or pressed.
Cumin seeds, a couple of tea spoons
Tomatoes – Enough to provide the dal with nice texture. Do not chop fine, halves or quarters work better.
A Hearty, bold Dal
This one’s a meal. I made one for a potluck the other day with blackeyed peas and a kidney bean type lentil that was quite loaded!
(note – this is considered one of those classic ratios in North Indian cooking, the 3:1 coriander:cumin, don’t know why, but it works, so I don’t mess with it).
You may have heard of Shai Agassi and Better Place (link’s to a TED talk, so you know he was important!), the car company that was going to revolutionize electric cars by separating the battery infrastructure from the car and setting up a number of battery swap stations. The goal was to remove “range anxiety” as batteries could be swapped out in 5 minutes or less. Their first experiment was in Israel and it appears to have not worked.
But such rosy projections never came close to materializing. One of the unexpected things to go wrong was that the company didn’t get much help from Israel. Although Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president, was an enthusiastic Better Place supporter, Israel — unlike the U.S. — provides no subsidies to EVs. Local authorities, whose permission was needed to build battery-switching stations, put up unexpected roadblocks
Not surprised one bit. System change requires institutional support.The status quo bias in favour of the current infrastructure is massive. Gasoline cars work well for people who drive cars, regardless of the expense, which is incremental, hence easily disregarded, or pollution concerns, which are unseen and to which people only have shallow affinities for. People don’t like uncertainty or novelty in routine. If we want to produce less pollution in travel, electric cars cannot just be plugged in to the current infrastructure. This quote from David Roberts of the Grist explains it well:
Lurking in the background is the notion that the “promise of electric cars” is false until an electric car can plop down in America’s current transportation system and do everything an internal-combustion-engine car can do. <snip> The problem, however, is not merely that our cars consume too much oil. It’s that our transportation system consumes too much oil. A better system won’t merely involve better cars, it will involve driving less, telecommuting more, using more public transportation, sharing cars, making cars smarter, and building more and better electrical infrastructure.
The current infrastructure was built with sustained government support over decades and is propped up by trillions of dollars in taxes, subsidies to fossil fuel industry and such. It works for the people using it, if not for life on this planet in the long term. If I was driving, if my commute is 20 minutes, an electric car will still only take 20 minutes. If you’re stuck in traffic in a hellish commute, an electric car doesn’t help you at all. An electric car would save some money in the long run, but no individual or market is going to build me a charging station in my apartment or workplace, or set up a range of battery swappers from scratch.
Building a sustainable infrastructure is not something a market can do, or is designed to do. It will be up to us to visualize where we want to go, and spend the money, time and effort needed to make it happen. We are also up against a large and well established system that does not really want this change to happen, and has spent decades eroding trust in the institutions that would have to make this change happen.
What needs to happen for electric cars to be a small part of the solution? The larger part involves system change to reduce daily transport needs, de-emphasize private transport and encourage bike, bus train and walk. For cars to be a part of the solution:
Are our governments and institutions up to this massive task?
This infographic came my way via Learnstuff and it looked interesting. I have a love-hate relationship with infographics and this one evokes the same feelings of “I really appreciate the effort someone put into this and it looks great” vs. “how is this going to influence our policy makers, or create the intensity (read this link, it’s really good stuff by David Roberts of Grist) that is required to foster the system change we need”?
Victoria is hosting its open data day and Hackathon Saturday the 23rd (Facebook Link). I plan on being there because I support openness and transparency, I’d like to learn more about available data sets, and hangout with like-minded people. The City of Victoria has taken steps since 2011 through Councillor Marianne Alto‘s initiatives and more to facilitate more open governance. Like any other government entity, there is valid criticism and issues to navigate, but stated goals exist and progress can be tracked and critiqued.
Enough people talk about open government data, and there’s consensus that governments should be more collaborative, open and participatory. But most of us spend more time and money interacting with non-government entities than we do with government entities. Look at your monthly budget. You will spend 30-40 percent on your mortgage or rent, goes to a non-government entity. The next biggest line items, probably groceries, car payments are all to private entities. Should we as consumers not expect the same open data sharing standards from our private entities as we do from government? The book Open Government, released for free by Safari books after Aaron Swartz’s death (does not appear to be free any more) has one chapter by Archon Fung and David Weil titled Open government and Open Society, which outlined my concerns very well:
Enthusiasts of transparency, which most readers of this book are, should be aware of two major pitfalls that may mar this achievement. The first is that government transparency, though driven by progressive impulses, may draw excessive attention to government’s mistakes and so have the consequence of reinforcing a conservative image of government as incompetent and corrupt. The second is that all this energy devoted to making open government comes at the expense of leaving the operations of large private sector organizations—banks, manufacturers, health providers, food producers, drug companies, and the like—opaque and secret. In the major industrialized democracies (but not in many developing countries or in authoritarian regimes), these private sector organizations threaten the health and well-being of citizens at least as much as government.
I wrote briefly about one aspect of open data in our private interactions, shopping receipts. We spend a lot of time, effort and money shopping, yet we’re very unlikely to leverage the power of data to help us shop better because our individual decisions are captured in paper receipts. But there are many more examples.
My goal on open data is to advocate for openness in all of society, not just in government. Also, just because data is available does not mean it is open. APIs and download capabilities are key.
So, when you think open data, do try and shift your gaze away from government occasionally. Remember that your housing decision is much more critical than the salary information for the assistant city manager, so openness is vital everywhere.
Update: as Kevin pointed out on twitter, the federal tax bill is pretty big. I was talking more in terms of the municipal parts like property taxes. The point nevertheless stands, we pay private entities large sums of money under poor data transparency conditions.